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My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess


by Robert Browning

Frà Pandolf's Painting of the Duchess

Symbol Analysis

The most obvious symbol in "My Last Duchess" is the one that the Duke spends most of his time talking about – the portrait of the Duchess painted by Frà Pandolf on the wall of his private gallery. Intriguingly, the Duke doesn’t say much about the painting itself, except that it’s lifelike and that it seems to capture the Duchess’s emotional state. We don’t get any sense of what pose the Duchess is in, what she’s wearing, or what the color scheme or brushstrokes. What we do learn about the painting is that it’s painted directly on the gallery wall, and so the Duke has to keep it covered by a curtain so that he can control who views it.

  • Lines 1-2: The Duke points toward the portrait of the duchess using the language of this first sentence – "that" and "painted on the wall" start setting the scene for the reader.
  • Lines 3-4: When the Duke describes the hard work that went into the painting of the Duchess, he uses a synecdoche, making Frà Pandolf’s hands, not Frà Pandolf himself, the subject of the sentence. By reducing the painter to the part of his body that does the work, he dehumanizes Frà Pandolf, turning him into a tool instead of a person.
  • Line 8: It’s a tough call on this one, but you could think of the painting of the Duchess as personified. After all, paintings themselves are just paint on a surface, but this painting is looking at the viewer – it has an "earnest glance" – and it almost seems like it has feelings – "depth and passion." However, because the painting is an image of a person, you could also interpret the Duke’s comments as being about the subject of the painting, instead of the painting itself – in which case this wouldn’t be personification.
  • Lines 17-19: Imagining the way the painter might have complimented the Duchess, the Duke uses elaborate imagery.

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